Death of animal rights activist was 'accidental'

Jill Phipps inquest: Jury rejects claims that the police or lorry driver were to blame for the tragedy at a veal exports protest
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The jury at the inquest into the death of animal rights protester Jill Phipps, who was crushed under the wheels of a veal truck, yesterday rejected claims that police or the lorry driver were to blame.

After 45 minutes' deliberation, the seven men and three women returned a verdict of accidental death in a decision which drew gasps from Miss Phipps' friends and family in the public gallery.

The 31-year-old mother died in February this year when her spine was severed as she fell beneath the lorry transporting veal calves to Coventry airport for export.

Lawyers had argued she was killed as a result of negligence by police in handling the protest at Coventry airport or by Stephen Yates, the lorry driver.

The coroner, David Sarginson, refused to criticise the Warwickshire force or Mr Yates, but he pointed out there could still be criminal or civil proceedings against either.

The Crown Prosecution Service has previously ruled out charging Mr Yates, 44, with causing death by dangerous driving, but that could be reversed. After the accident, he was summonsed for six minor offences relating to his vehicle, including driving more than the legal mileage limit in the 24 hours before the death, falsifying tachograph records and for having a faulty rear tyre.

Both the jury and the coroner expressed sympathies to Miss Phipps' family. Nancy, 69, and Bob, 70, her parents, Lesley, her younger sister, Zab, her brother, and Justin Timson, her 26-year-old boyfriend, were all at Coventry Coroner's Court. "This really is a very sad affair," Mr Sarginson said.

Demonstrators began picketing Baginton airport outside Coventry last November and the protest intensified after a jet, charted by an animal transport firm, crashed close by.

The inquest was told that Miss Phipps, of Coronation Road, Coventry, was a "hard-core activist" who had become a spokeswoman for the cause.

On February 1, she rushed hands outstretched into the path of the lorry driven by Mr Yates, a partner in a family haulage firm from Fridaythorpe in Humberside. He said he did not see her because he was concentrating on her friend, who was trying to chain herself to the truck. But police investigations showed he should have been able to see her.

Several police officers suggested Miss Phipps deliberately placed herself under the truck, sacrificing her life for her beliefs, but that was dismissed by Michael Mansfield, the leading QC who gave his services to the family free of charge.